First MPH@UNC online cohort graduates from Gillings School

May 19, 2020

During their final class, faculty and cohort members celebrated with an early "graduation."

During their final class, faculty and cohort members celebrated with an early “graduation.”

On May 10, 640 students officially became graduates of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Among that number, 13 were part of the first cohort to graduate from MPH@UNC, the Gillings School’s online Master of Public Health (MPH) program.

They studied in the Public Health Leadership concentration, which launched in fall 2018.

“There were two factors that drew me to the MPH@UNC program,” said Sheila Drakeley, MPH, one of the newly minted graduates. “One factor was the prestige and rigor UNC provides in the classroom, with respects not only to the course work but to the access to renowned faculty and staff. The second factor was being able to obtain my master’s degree while continuing to advance in my professional career and immerse myself in field work.”

Drakeley and her fellow MPH@UNC graduates represent the diversity of public health professionals the online degree is meant to serve. Ranging in age from 24 to 31 years old, they hail from two countries and 10 U.S. states, and almost all of them worked full-time while studying.

Lori Evarts

Lori Evarts

“Many of these graduates work as public health practitioners,” said Lori Evarts, MPH, an assistant professor with the Gillings School’s Public Health Leadership Program. “They were serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 response even while completing their degree requirements. A handful are going on to pursue medical degrees to further serve our public’s health — these are truly exceptional people.”

Dr. Vaughn Upshaw

Dr. Vaughn Upshaw

“I have a passion for teaching adult learners,” added Vaughn Mamlin Upshaw, DrPH, EdD, professor of public health leadership. “People who choose the MPH@UNC online program tend to be people who are working, people who have encountered challenges, and people who are seeking to grow and expand their horizons. I am motivated every time one of these students tells me how they applied a class assignment directly within their job or community to make a difference.”

As part of the curriculum, all MPH@UNC students complete a hands-on practicum. Drakeley’s took place in Melbourne, Australia, at the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI). With the MCHRI team, she tested the accessibility of a Virtual Patient Assistant (VPA) in providing prenatal and preconception health advice to women in Australia.

Sheila Drakeley

Sheila Drakeley

“The project was field tested first in Boston and found successful for the target population,” Drakeley said. “For my practicum, I conducted focus groups with Australian women between the ages of 18 and 45 to understand the adjustments the VPA system would need in order to be successful in that local context.”

“In addition to that experience, there are so many other memories I am thankful for,” she added. “I now have lifelong friends and colleagues committed to the mission of public health; an extensive network of UNC alumni willing and able to help a fellow Tar Heel; and a community that feels like a second home. My time at UNC allowed me to publish multiple articles while networking and growing as a public health leader. I collaborated with individuals from around the world and shared my research on multiple occasions, including through poster presentations and as a 2020 GillingsX speaker.”

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at

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